WEB UPDATE: District getting closer to smoking ban

Posted Friday, July 8, 7:00 p.m. The District will follow New York City’s lead by banning smoking in restaurants and bars if its City Council passes recently introduced legislation.

City Council members are considering at least two separate bills that aim to ban or restrict smoking in D.C. restaurants and bars. They predict that some sort of smoking law will pass by the end of this year.

The bill sponsored by a majority of council members would ban smoking in indoor venues outright, while the other, introduced by councilmember Carol Schwartz, would give tax relief to non-smoking businesses and require establishments that allow smoking to install an expensive air purifying system.

A third bill that banned smoking in dining areas only was withdrawn by its sponsor councilmember Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) last week after it failed to get the support needed to pass the bill on an emergency basis. After the withdrawal, Brown said that the Council is one step closer to passing a comprehensive smoking ban.

“Today’s a great day. I’m excited, having so many colleagues to say no, no, no, no to this emergency,” he was quoted as saying in The Washington Post. “The reason I’m happy is because we all agree that we don’t want something to be limited to the dining room only.”

D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, who was originally against the idea of a smoking ban, has warmed up to it after doing some research on the issue and speaking to other officials, including former Surgeon General David Thatcher, said the mayor’s spokesman Vincent Morris.

“He’s talked to other mayors and other officials,” Morris said.

Morris added that Williams plans to introduce a compromise bill with the ultimate goal of banning smoking in all enclosed public venues. The compromise would probably not include Schwartz’s legislation because it “wouldn’t go nearly far enough. We want to restrict a little more.”

Schwartz likens the smoking ban to the prohibition of the early 1900s. She said in a news release that the smoking ban would lead to a “slippery slope” of possibly banning other legal but sometimes unhealthy practices such as driving or drinking alcohol.

“Let’s remember, we live in a democracy,” Schwartz said in the release. “And the freedom to disagree is part of it. Let’s respect each other, and our individual opinions as we debate this issue.”

One of the concerns voiced by Schwartz and other opponents of the ban is that D.C. businesses will lose revenue to Virginia and Maryland. The debate in the District is similar to pre-ban concerns in other cities, concerns that center around whether a smoking ban would hurt bars and restaurants, weaken the economy and reduce the vibrancy of city life.

Seven states and 1,900 localities, including New York, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco, have smoking bans. According to The Post, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Sweden and New Zealand also have similar bans in place.

A New York City government study showed that the city’s bar and restaurant industry continued to thrive one year after the ban was enacted in March 2003, with business tax receipts up 8.7 percent and employment up by more than 10,000 jobs.

In Massachusetts, the Harvard School of Public Health found little or no change in bar and restaurant patronage, meal tax collections or alcoholic beverage excise taxes after the ban was put in place in Manhattan last July.

GW senior Nicole Norkin said that if a D.C. smoking ban passed she would be upset about not being able to smoke in bars, but she recognized concern over second-hand smoke.

“I’d prefer to make a sacrifice for people’s health,” she said, adding that she has a friend who is an asthmatic. “(My friend) should be able to go to bars safely.”

Senior Carl Ward said that while he is not a smoker, he believes in personal choice and does not think the ban should be inclusive on all D.C. restaurants and bars.

“There should be at least some places that people can still smoke inside,” he said. “I don’t think everything should be smoke-free.”

Despite his preference, Ward said he does not think the smoking ban, if passed, would affect the District’s hospitality sector.

“No matter what, people are still (going to) want to go places to eat,” he said. “And they’re still going to want to go places to drink.”

-Amanda Hess and Katie Rooney contributed to this report.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.